Chadar Trek: The most amazing and wonderful trek on planet earth

10th Aug 2017
Photo of Chadar Trek: The most amazing and wonderful trek on planet earth by Dr. Aakanksha Pitliya

Route Overview

The Chadar Trek is one of the most wild and beautiful hikes on the planet. Mostly it is covered by the snow, the Chadar Trek takes hikers through a frozen river valley into the very heartland of India’s Zanskar region.

The region’s harsh desert environment and towering mountains make the Chadar trek one of the most popular treks in the ladakh. Very few treks are as remote as the Chadar and even fewer are conducted in high winter. The trek is not for light hearted as temperatures are often lower than -10 degrees celsius in the day and -20 at night.

The trail has been used for nearly a 1000 years by the Buddhist monks living in the region. You’ll trek the same route, walking over the frozen river as you cut a path towards Naerak. You will need to have a good level of stamina and fitness to have a really good time. Accommodation is riverside camping.

As I already had all the necessary trek accessories and blessed with good stamina, decide to go for the trek without any special shopping and preparation. Things that I bought prior to trek was Gum Boots, one more thermal and extra layer of socks.

Chadar trek had been on my wish list from the last two years, ever since I started trekking. And After months of anticipation, finally the day arrived.

Day 1

I can see mountains covered with snow and the other half with brown land inside of the flight. . The entire land covered with snow. Some people switching their seats from the left window to the right one or vice versa to enjoy the scenic view.

This is what happens when you take a flight to Leh during the winters! All you need is a window seat, a clear weather and may be a good camera.

Arrive in Leh – the highest airport on earth! Take in the cool mountain air as you explore town before bedding down in your hotel for the night.

Day 2

As we were moving towards our 1st camp, we were seeing a huge blue frozen river in front of us flowing till eternity, with tall mountains on both the sides. Everyone in the bus was excited to place their first step on the Chadar and finally the wait was over when after 3hours of drive, we reached our campsite. In the evening, our trek leader taught us how to walk on ice and gave us some precautionary tips.

When we put our gum boots and placed our first step on the ice, it was a marvellous moment with everybody trying to find their step on the surface which was very slippery.

Doing the penguin kind of walk on such a surface without lifting the feet too much off the ground is the key. While we learned to walk on the thick slippery sheet of ice, most of us kept falling while walking.

Along the way we visited the important Buddhist temple of Shanti Stupa. Once in Chilling we did drive a little further to Tildad Do where our hike began. The drive is fairly high and windy and we needes to hold our nerve as the road becomes tighter and more narrow.

Day 335

This below part of the trek, this little patch of flowing chadar made us think of going back and quitting the trek.
As we walk we made make sure to take in the incredible rock faces and surrounding snow-capped peaks as you walk in the footsteps of generations before us. The landscape is truly spectacular during winter and very few people get to witness such remote valleys.

We started our trek in the morning to our next campsite, Shingra Coma. After walking for about 2kms on the frozen river we realized that the ice had cracked ahead. At that time I thought that this broken path is lesser than 50 meters, anyone can cross it in 5 – 10 secs and after contemplating a few times, we finally decided to cross this patch. We were the first group going to cross this patch. So I was excited. ‘’Common who could miss the chance of walking in the freezing water! This is the real adventure”, I thought to myself.

First step in that water and I realize, how stupid and wrong I was for underestimating coldness of the water. It was so cold that the moment the water entered my shoes, “uii maaa” I screamed as loud as I could. It was a scream filled with pain and fear of that I might lose my senses. By now, the water was knee deep and seeped through my gum boots and pants.

I couldn’t feel my feet and my fingers because that’s how cold the water was! Stepping into the icy cold river wasn’t a decision which was as brave as I had imagined it would be because the cold water just made my whole body go numb.
After a little break we started again to climb the most treacherous terrain of this trek and then descend.
And now, imagine how we managed to descend at this point. The cliff was steep and getting down was even more challenging. There was no grip whatsoever, one wrong step and we would fall straight into the frozen river. The moment I stepped my foot on above point, I saw stones rolling down the steep slope.
Last 2 hours were very scary since our life was on stake that time. Once we reached our next campsite, we had to make a big decision of whether we want to continue or not and the way things turned out on the first day, everyone was scared. But now, when I look back to those moments and decisions that we took, I feel it was all worthy and the whole experience seems very exciting as well.

Day 4

The journey along the river valley taking in the incredible gorges and frozen inlets as we venture towards Tib Cave. The cave is a huge opening in the rock face in which we camp the night to shelter from the snow.

We witnessed many frozen waterfalls and caves, all along the day.
Some are short in height and some tall. But one of the waterfalls that caught our attention is the one in the below picture which was a flowing waterfall which mysteriously never freezes. One more interesting sighting of the day was when the Zanskar river passes through this narrow deep gully between the two mountains. The gorge hardly gets any sunlight and the river looks as if it is non-existent. It looked like a desert of ice. 

Day 5

This was our last camping site at Nerek waterfall, opposite the snowclad mountains. It is a beautiful setting where Nerak village is based at an elevation of 2000 ft higher from the Zanskar river. Nerak is notoriously famous for its really cold nights and winds. The temperature can dip as low as -35 degreecelcius or lower. This was the coldest point in our trek.

After lunch and some refreshments, we moved towards our so called summit point. With 15-20mins steep ascend and 5 mins of easy walk, we got a chance to witness the first glimpse of the much awaited frozen waterfall of the trek.
And finally, when one of my "Frozen dreams" came true.

It is an ice fall and a breathtakingly beautiful sight for all the trekkers after a hard day of walk (close to 15 kms). After all this, when I finally reach this place, something within me changes, I was no longer the same person who started the trek, with lots of ups-downs and a moment when you actually thought of going back because you couldn’t bear the harshness of Zanskar anymore, and yet I stand there staring at the gorgeous view of the mighty frozen waterfall covering the whole snow landscape with a speck of greenery at the top. It was so delightful that I can’t find the exact words to describe the feeling of relief that I actually made it. It is an absolute wonder to keep looking at the waterfall and think how on earth such things exist! It was a moving sight for sure.

I think this is the kind of place that leaves you speechless. It’s going to take me awhile to get over this place or maybe I just never will.

Day 6

Our return route was the same as our onward one . We all were super relaxed on the return journey. The uncertainty whether we would reach till the end was not there as that was replaced by the sense of accomplishment. Surprisingly, there was a complete change in Chadar’s status during our return. At many places where Zanskar river was completely covered by ice sheet on our onward journey was now flowing water.

As we returned to Tibb very early, we got ample amount of time. Luckily, we had a good company of the blue sky so some of us started photography sessions and some engaged in conversations with the trekkers from the other groups. One thing I have learned that day is that you can’t predict the formation of the Chadar on any given day. 

Day 7

Our return journey to ShingraKoma was the same as yesterday’s long tiring walk on Chadar without any difficulties.

We reached early afternoon; so again, we had lots of time to spare. After taking a small nap, we decided to roam around. We climbed a small hill and got this splendid superview of Chadar.

Day 8

On the last day everyone was in hurry to reach the base camp as soon as possible and was literally running on the ice, so was I! In that period there was a time, where I found no one in front of me, just myself walking alone with my stick, blanket of ice, the sound of icebergs crushing and the clear blue sky. So, I stopped to look back to see if anyone was behind me and surprisingly no one was there; but what I saw this magical view!

I like these textures of nature, as if every moment came together to slow down the time and remind us that this world is more beautiful than we know.
Once we reached Tilad Do, waiting game for the bus was started. 

This was by far the craziest thing I had done till now and was the perfect way to end the thrilling Chadar trek which gave us an adrenaline rush.
A 7kg bagpack, 6 days of trek, 11750 feet altitude, temperature varying from -5 degree to -35 degree, 80kms walk on a frozen river, living by the banks of the river and under the cave – these are the ingredients that make the Chadar trek one of the most difficult and the most glamorous treks in India.

Written by:-
Aakanksha Pitliya

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